LIFE AS MYTH

Index

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JOURNAL

Index

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JOURNAL 2008

venus

Impressions at sunrise

Finding the inner muse

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SPRING 2008

Artists and models

Index 2008

Victorine Meurent

Olympia

Breaking taboos

Suzanne and Leon

The muse of Manet

A bouquet of violets

Self-portrait with palette

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LIFEWORKS

About

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ARCHIVES

Index

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SPRING 2008
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OLYMPIA

 

Olympia. Édouard Manet. 1863. Musée d'Orsay, Paris, France. (left) Victorine Meurent. Edouard Manet. 1862. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

When other artists correct nature by painting Venus they lie. Manet asked himself why he should lie. Why not tell the truth? Emile Zola (1840-1902), writer, commenting on Olympia

When the Salon exhibited Edouard Manet's Olympia in 1865, an enormous uproar followed. Though fellow artists realized the significance of the work, the more conservative public and critics were not as receptive. They termed Olympia, "vulgar" and "immoral." Antonin Proust, a journalist and friend of Manet, noted: If the canvas of the Olympia was not destroyed, it is only because of the precautions that were taken by the administration.

Much of what happens on the canvas of Olympia was not new. Manet depicts a naked prostitute surrounded by symbols laden with racial, sexual and gender stereotypes. Erotic symbols were already in the painting vocabulary of French art patrons. Nudes as subjects were familiar as well. What made Olympia disquieting to the Victorian sensibility was that she was nude, she was a prostitute, and she looked directly at the viewer. Modern art commentary has called the overall effect of the gaze "confrontational". I would expand that idea further and say that, by looking directly back at the viewer, Olympia transcends her status as sexual object and becomes a sexual being. This was revolutionary.

 

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